Before your head explodes, please know that I think white supremacy is the sickly fantasy of stunted ignoramuses, as are any “isms” that confuse whatpeople are with who they are. There is no Constitutional right to threaten individuals with harm, and I think that people who do so, even in a single online comment, should be punished. Full stop.
But policing hate speech by silencing haters is problematic, for at least three reasons:
First, if it’s Nazis today, what will it be tomorrow? I know, I know, that’s the same argument that gun rights activists make, but this is an entirely different situation; unlike the Second Amendment protections that are assumed to be absolute, there are a number of limitations already imposed on the rights granted by the First: Defamation, threats to individuals and incitement to violence, child pornography, and even obscenity in certain instances are not protected speech.
So if we add hate to the list, what types of thoughts could be included? What if I absolutely hate my political opponents, or hate global climate change deniers so much that I don’t think they’re sentient human beings?
I’d be horribly stupid, but would my hate be a crime? Current US law says no, unless I stepped over the line and tried to do something about it. I think the operators of online social platforms could do far more to rid comments of just that language.
This brings me to the second issue, which is that the definition of hate speech usually comes from the opinions of the hated.
The numbnuts who marched in Charlottesville were threatening to African Americans and Jews in ways that nobody outside those communities could begin to understand. A torchlit march is a visceral symbol of not only past crimes against their humanity, but a reminder of the institutional injustice they live with today, and a threat that tomorrow could get worse.
When they chanted “Jews will not replace us,” it doesn’t take a PhD to connect that sentiment to employment quotas and gas chambers. The only novelty is that the marchers didn’t bother to wear white sheets or brown shirts.
But was it a threat? Is the very existence of the Ku Klux Klan a threat to African Americans? The answer probably depends on who you ask, which is the problem.
That problem gets clear when the tables are turned, and institutional authority feels threatened (the outcomes are uniformly horrible): Joe McCarthy thought that attending a meeting of so-called communist sympathizers was a threat, so people’s careers were ruined. Labor protesters were beaten and killed earlier that same century because their politics challenged the status quo.
Southern whites and Germans convinced themselves they were hated, even though it was entirely imaginary, and look what happened.
So I wonder if using the nuanced and shifting perceptions of feeling hated, real or not, is the best way to counter hatred? Maybe we need better objective definitions for what constitutes hateful behavior, and governments and businesses need to address them more fully (and regularly) instead of responding if and when it seems needed (or, in the case of the Charlottesville police, not at all)?
The third reason is bigger than a love site impeding the procreative tendencies of Nazis, or the hypothetical complexities of deciding if/who to shut down next:
Isn’t it scary that tech companies have so much control over how we communicate and interact?
Banning users is something that happens all the time, for myriad reasons; beyond silencing a few people, these companies control everything else that we see online and, by effect, what we do. Much of this parsing and promotion happens under everyone’s radar, so we see worlds on Facebook and other social sites that are pure invention, not real.
It’s called curation.
While I’m at it, I can’t miss mentioning the work that “Yes, You’re Racist” has been doing on Twitter, ID’ing marchers so they can be shamed publicly. Part of me absolutely loves this twist, but then it hit me: What happens when my picture gets shot while I’m doing something — protesting, maybe, or simply entering a retail store — and then it gets used to hurt me?
I’m thinking stuff like pics that ID me as a frequent patron of my local ice cream parlor, which I’m sure my health insurance provider would love to see.
But then I consider how the same approach could be used to intimidate women seeking abortions (they’re already spammed by anti-abortion ads when they visit clinics), and it all gets pretty bad. The idea that we have no more privacy publicly than we do online should scare everyone, not just Nazis.
Presuming that hate speech can or should be banned just seems too easy, and too voluntary, like tech companies are willing to make a gesture that doesn’t really solve the problem.
Every “ism” shrivels and dies when exposed to the sunlight of truth. Not only would it help if social platforms (of all kinds) actually policed threatening behaviors instead of presuming to squash hateful ideas, but what if they also took responsibility for ensuring factual accuracy of what people post?
I’m thinking a warning label like on cigarette packages, stating that despite the glorious claims and promises of one or another idiot hater or hate group, that the facts say otherwise (and using them could harm you).
I don’t think we want haters simmering in secret…we want them in the public eye, daring to parade even, so we can refute and reject them.
After all, how many dates could a Nazi posting on OkCupid hope to score?